c1920 Blue Bird

Original lettering on the Blue Bird tank

Australian roads were inviting places in the 1920s, and V-twin motorcycles with direct belt drive and no clutch were relatively common. My 6hp Blue Bird JAP is typical of offerings from a number of local manufacturers of the time, but from the accumulated knowledge of Australian manufacturers it was easy to identify A.G. Healing in Melbourne as the manufacturer, and 1920 as the likely production date. The Blue Bird connection took a little longer to unravel.

Provenance - the ability to trace an item back to its place of origin - has been important in the art world for a very long time. As stocks of unrestored old motorcycles dry up, establishing provenance for an old machine is becoming increasingly important. This is especially so for Australian made machines, since it's not too hard to locate an engine, scrape together some cycleparts, and - hey presto! - instant vintage motorcycle. I like to think that the Blue Bird comes with pretty good provenance.

The photo below was taken in 1984 when I first saw the machine. I had travelled to Geelong (where I grew up) after a chance meeting with a man "who had an old bike in his shed". From the pile of parts, we loosely reassembled the parts to form the makings of a rather handsome motorcycle.

Blue Bird as found 1984

A few months later, on the day of the opening ceremony of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, I was back in Geelong to collect the machine, together with sundry bits and pieces of other vintage machines: things like a set of Harley forks and front mudguard, an Evans Power Cycle engine and tank, a Coventry Eagle tank, and so on. All this hardware had been cleared out of an old shed in the Geelong area a year or two before, so there seemed to be a Geelong history for the bike.

Healings were wholesalers only in Victoria, and supplied numerous small retailers with both bicycles and motorcycles. The origin of the name Blue Bird was unknown for the first twenty years that I owned the bike, although I was fairly certain that eventually we'd locate a bike shop selling Blue Bird cycles in the appropriate period. A chance meeting with an old school friend - still living in Geelong and with a strong interest in early bicycles - heated up the chase, and eventually he was able to locate the following advertisement in the Geelong Advertiser in 1921:

Geelong Advertiser 1920

Not only does the advertisement pin down the origin of Blue Bird Cycles, it also identifies Mr. Kinleyside as an agent for JAP motorcycles. Presumably Blue Bird cycles were sourced from Healings, who would also supply a motor cycle from their catalogue should the occasion arise. The survival of my Blue Bird tells us that the occasion did arise at least once, but realistically not many local machines would have been sold against the very competitive products flooding the market from the UK and the USA.

Along with the cheap direct-drive bikes, Healings built chain-cum-belt or all chain machines using Sturmey Archer or Burman gearboxes. Until recently, I had the remains of a "sister" bike to the Blue Bird, only 100 different in frame number and identical in all respects except that it was fitted with a chain-cum-belt Burman gearbox. This bike is branded Peerless, a name used by Healings when they retailed through their branches outside Victoria. The two bikes are compared in an article I wrote a in the mid 1990s.

Writing on this site some years ago, I said that I was in no hurry to restore the Peerless, because the ease and pleasure of riding the the direct drive Blue Bird made a clutch and gearbox unnecessary luxuries. When I was recently forced to part with a machine from the stable, it was the Peerless that had to go.

1920 Blue Bird

Copyright Leon Mitchell 1999-2007


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